Two Days Away (March 4-5, 2017)

I have been trying to keep myself on track with all the varied activities I have promised to undertake during my stay in Germany. So far, I think I’ve done pretty well. One month into my residence, I have completed one of three planned research trips, participated in one of two seminar sessions and done some writing. I think that’s not bad, but from experience I know that all of a sudden, one looks up and the time has all gone with too much left to do. A bad feeling.

Wanting to do whatever I can to prevent this from occurring, I set off this past Saturday (March 4th) for Munich where two more block prints reside. It’s a six hour train ride from Hamburg to Munich so not possible to do in one day. I had recently re-established contact with a former professor of mine from graduate school who has spent most of his professional life at Goethe University in Frankfurt. When he learned that I was going to be in Germany, we arranged to meet and since Frankfurt lies between Hamburg and Munich, this was a perfect opportunity.

I spent a very pleasant evening and morning reminiscing with David King and his wife Pat—I had not seen them in thirty years!—and then continued my journey south. In Munich, I spent the night in a small hotel which was so tucked away that it took me a good half an hour to find the street it was on. Even the locals weren’t exactly sure where Amalienstrasse was! In desperation, I walked into a competing hotel and the desk clerk cheerfully told me my hotel was in the next street!

This morning (Monday, March 6th), I walked the three short blocks to Ludwigstrasse, a grand, wide thoroughfare lined with Gothic piles of tooled stone to find the Staatsbibliothek, the state library.

After going through the obligatory check-in, shedding my jacket, hat, and briefcase, and sliding the pieces of paper, ruler, and magnifying glass into the transparent plastic bag I was given, I was admitted to the manuscript reading room where I spent two intense hours examining the block prints. The librarian who had discovered these block prints, Helga Rebhan, came out to greet me and introduce herself. We arranged to meet for coffee after I had finished looking at the block prints and we had a very informative conversation during the course of which she told me that she knew of another example that a colleague of hers had seen in southwestern China! The story of the block prints grows ever more intriguing…

Helga was able to provide a bit of general information about the Staatsbibliothek as well: ten million, that’s TEN MILLION volumes of print plus a couple hundred thousand manuscripts. The building was put up between 1832 and 1839 and is glorious both inside and out. The outside is solid stone, made to last; the inside has high ceilings and broad staircases. The reading rooms have all been modernized, but in a tasteful way; comfortable seating is everywhere and there’s plenty of light. It was busy on that Monday morning, due in part to the fact that the university is just a stone’s throw away down Ludwigstrasse. But the manuscript reading room was populated as well.

Very impressive all in all.

Now I’m on the train again, headed back to Hamburg and my apartment. I’d like to think I could kick back for a couple of days, but the fear of running out of time makes that seem unlikely. A cousin of mine comes to visit for four days at the end of the week and then we’re into the second week of March already. Nearly half of my time here will be gone. So, it looks like I’ll have to press on for a while before I can put my feet up.


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